XXVII. The Left Facing Great Power Rivalry: Deniers of Russia’s and China’s Imperialist Character without Drawing Conclusions





We will now deal with those organizations which deny the imperialist character of Russia and China but which, in contrast to the forces discussed before, do not consistently draw the conclusions (yet) to side with them against the Western powers. As we discussed above, these organizations – the Morenoite LIT, UIT as well as the FT – equate Russia and China with larger semi-colonial countries like Brazil.


As we already elaborated, such a class characterization of Russia and China as non-imperialist, semi-colonial countries would force them – if they would think the issue consistently to its logical conclusion – to side with the Eastern Powers against their Western rivals. This is because, as it is well-know, it is the classic and correct position for Marxists to support in any given conflict semi-colonial countries against imperialist powers. Taking the example of a conflict between semi-colonial Brazil and imperialist Britain, Trotsky made this unmistakably clear:


I will take the most simple and obvious example. In Brazil there now reigns a semi-fascist regime that every revolutionary can only view with hatred. Let us assume, however, that on the morrow England enters into a military conflict with Brazil. I ask you on whose side of the conflict will the working class be? I will answer for myself personally—in this case I will be on the side of “fascist” Brazil against “democratic” Great Britain. Why? Because in the conflict between them it will not be a question of democracy or fascism. If England should be victorious, she will put another fascist in Rio de Janeiro and will place double chains on Brazil. If Brazil on the contrary should be victorious, it will give a mighty impulse to national and democratic consciousness of the country and will lead to the overthrow of the Vargas dictatorship. The defeat of England will at the same time deliver a blow to British imperialism and will give an impulse to the revolutionary movement of the British proletariat. Truly, one must have an empty head to reduce world antagonisms and military conflicts to the struggle between fascism and democracy. Under all masks one must know how to distinguish exploiters, slaveowners, and robbers![1]


It is true that the LIT and UIT leaders have fortunately not drawn such conclusions (until now) to side with Russian and Chinese imperialism against the U.S. But this is not the result of their correct analysis but rather a product of their political indolence. Their theoretical failure to understand what imperialism is and what it is not is without doubt a scratch which can easily become gangrene.


While the FT has also not drawn such social-imperialist conclusions, there are statements of them which reflect the inherent danger of their wrong analysis of Russia and China. Philippe Alcoy, one of their leaders in France, stated in a recently published statement that while the Putin regime is reactionary, it is not imperialist. He emphasized that this regime represents a (wrong) reaction against the imperialist offensive.


Does this all mean that the working-class movement and the revolutionary left must see in Putin a kind of “anti imperialist”? No. Putin is on the top of a reactionary regime; he is the face of contemporary Russian capitalism. And, as we can see, to defend the interest of Russian capitalists he is able to produce humanitarian disasters, massacres, and support murderous dictators as Assad in Syria. But it will be impossible to fight Putin’s influence among the Russia working and popular classes if the revolutionary left doesn’t has a clear anti-imperialist stance. Putin is a result of the imperialist offensive in Russia in the 1990s, representing Russian capitalism’s reactionary answer to that offensive. The revolutionary left must condemn and denounce the Western offensive against Russia, including the economic sanctions, which hurt not so much oligarchs but the Russian working class and the large majority of ordinary people. Of course, this should never mean expressing political support for Putin. A class stance against imperialist aggression is the better way to fight Putin, too.[2]


While not drawing openly social-imperialist conclusions, this statement opens the door in such a direction. Characterizing the Putin regime as a “reaction against the imperialist offensive”, opposing sanctions against Russia (but not those vice versa), calling to workers movement to denounce the West (but not Russia) – all this suggests to side with Russia instead of keeping a defeatist position against both imperialist camps.


The FT’s characterization of the Russian Putin regime in this statement resembles rather a semi-colonial bourgeois regimes (e.g. like the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein in Iraq). As we stated before, Marxists condemn such regimes and characterize them as reactionary but they also defend such countries even with such a reactionary regime at the helm. While such an approach was and remains completely legitimate in the case of a semi-colonial country attacked by imperialist powers, it is totally wrong when it comes to Great Powers. However, such a disastrous social-imperialist defense of Russia and China (against the U.S. or Japan) is only the logical consequence of the FT’s fatal analysis of these Great Powers as non-imperialist states.


It is not accidental that the theoretical confusion of LIT, UIT and FT in the field of Great Power rivalry corresponds with similar confusion in other important world political events. To their credit, LIT and UIT still defend the Syrian Revolution against the Assad regime – in contrast to many other centrists. Here is not the place to deal with the weaknesses of their solidarity with the Syrian Revolution. At this point it is sufficient to say that they are part of the small minority of socialists who continue to support the Syrian liberation struggle.


However, one can not fail to point out that such plus on their side is devalued by devastating positions on other central struggles where these organizations have sided with the counter-revolution. We have in mind, for example, their support for the right-wing, semi-fascist rebellion in the Ukraine in 2014 [3] or for the reactionary provocations of the right-wing opposition in Venezuela against the left-bourgeois Bonapartist Maduro government. [4] The LIT leadership went even further and praised the Egypt military coup of General Sisi in July 2013 as a “second revolution” and cheered the impeachment of Rousseff and the arrest of Lula by the reactionary bourgeoisie in Brazil. [5]


Likewise, the comrades of the FT suffer from gross disorientation on crucial events of the world class struggle. They characterize the Syrian Revolution (as well as the national liberation struggle in Yemen) as a “reactionary civil war” between “the despotic regime of Bashar al-Assad” and “the so-called ‘rebels’”. [6]


At their recent XI. Conference, the FT comrades confirmed this assessment. They explicitly stated in their central world perspectives document: “From our point of view, the democratic uprising against Assad, which was part of the ‘Arab Spring’, has already been transformed into a totally reactionary civil war long time ago.[7]


We remark in passing that the same refusal to support the ongoing liberation struggle of the Syrian people is shared by other, smaller, groups like the “League for the Fifth International” (L5I) [8] or the Permanent Revolution Collective (CoReP). [9] While these groups are at least capable to recognize the imperialist character of Russia and China, they capitulate to the Western Islamophobia and use the Islamist leadership of the popular struggle against the Assad dictatorship as a pretext to take an abstentionist, Third-Campist position in Syria.


Those comrades, who deny the imperialist character of Russia and China but hesitate to draw the logical (at least for Marxists) conclusions, i.e. to call for the victory of the Eastern Great Powers against their Western rivals, should bear in mind the programmatic statement of the Left Opposition as formulated in their platform against the Stalinist bureaucracy in 1927:


The slogan “Defence of the Fatherland” would be a false disguise serving the interests of imperialism in all bourgeois countries, except the colonial and semi-colonial countries that are carrying on a national revolutionary war against the imperialists. In the Soviet Union the slogan “Defence of the Fatherland” is correct, because we are defending a socialist fatherland and the base of the world working class movement.[10]


It is either-or: if China and Russia really would be semi-colonial countries, it would be the duty of the comrades of LIT, UIT and FT to side with them against the Western imperialists. If they do not side with China and Russia because their political instinct tells them that this would be wrong, they should draw the theoretical conclusion and recognize that the emerging Great Powers are imperialist. Either-Or!


[1] Leon Trotsky: Anti-Imperialist Struggle is Key to Liberation. An Interview with Mateo Fossa (1938); in: Writings of Leon Trotsky 1938-39, p. 34

[2] Philippe Alcoy (FT in France), in: Rossen Djagalov: We Asked: Geopolitics and the Left (Part I: Russia & the West), LeftEast April 19 2018, http://www.criticatac.ro/lefteast/we-asked-rusia-and-the-west/

[3] For an overview of the RCIT’s analysis of the events in the Ukraine and a critique of the reformist and centrist left see our numerous articles on this subject in the sub-section on Europe on our website: https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/europe/

[4] For an overview of the RCIT’s analysis of the events in the Venezuela see our numerous articles on this subject in the sub-section on Latin America on our website: https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/latin-america/

[5] For an overview of our critique of the LIT/PSTU see e.g. RCIT: In the Wake of the PSTU/LIT-CI Split, What Lessons Can Be Learned? An Open Letter to Members and Sympathizers of the International Workers League (Fourth International), 11.7.2016, https://www.thecommunists.net/rcit/open-letter-lit-qi/

[6] Claudia Cinatti: The Geopolitics of the Civil War in Syria, September 14, 2016, http://www.leftvoice.org/The-Geopolitics-of-the-Civil-War-in-Syria

[7] See the central resolution adopted at the recent FT conference quoted above.

[8] While the comrades of the League for the Fifth International (L5I) sided with the Syrian Revolution for some years, they later dropped their support and concluded that “there is a need to recognise that the Syrian revolution has been defeated.” They declare the Arab Revolution as finally over: “Now, even if the brutal civil war in Syria resumes, with Idlib and other remaining liberated areas coming under renewed attacks, we have to recognise that the Syrian revolution, which began six years ago, has suffered a strategic defeat. Indeed, we can apply this judgment to the entire Arab Spring, given the reactionary nature of the civil wars in Libya and Yemen. It was defeated by a range of counterrevolutionary forces; military bonapartists, such as el-Sisi or Assad, monarchist, as in Bahrain, or salafist-jihadists who emerged out of the resistance. The task of revolutionaries in the Middle East and internationally is to face the truth, no matter how bitter, that they now face a counterrevolutionary period, whose duration cannot be known, before there will be a re-emergence of mass struggles.” (L5I: Resolution on Syria, 02/03/2017, http://www.fifthinternational.org/content/resolution-syria) What an unfortunate opportunistic adaption to the middle-class leftist milieu in Western Europe which despises the liberation struggles of the supposedly “backward” Muslim people!

[9] CoReP: The Liaison Committee of Centrists capitulates in front of Islamism, 2 October 2016, http://www.revolucionpermanente.com/english/?p=250. In this bizarre statement, the CoReP group attacks those Trotskyists, including the RCIT, who continue to support the liberation struggle in Syria, as “capitulators to Islamism”. In fact, this article is rather a damning indictment of the French CoReP leadership’s adaption to Islamophobic social-chauvinist public opinion of imperialist France!

[10] The Platform of the Opposition (1927), in: Leon Trotsky: The Challenge of the Left Opposition (1926-27), pp. 367-368